Newcastle uni (Australia) bully claims: Academic says harassment led to illness

THE University of Newcastle has agreed to cover the medical costs of an academic who claimed she suffered years of bullying and harassment at work that led to a psychological illness.

Microbiologist Michelle Adams said she was one of dozens of staff who had suffered bullying and harassment in recent years at the university and she believed it was an "ingrained culture" at the institution.

University vice-chancellor Nick Saunders said he did not believe bullying or harassment was a problem at the institution.

But he confirmed 57 complaints were investigated last year.

"To my knowledge bullying and harassment is not a major problem at the University of Newcastle in the context of an organisation that employs and teaches 35,000 staff and students," Professor Saunders said.

Dr Adams's case dates back to 2003 when she raised allegations of plagiarism against two fellow academics.

Following the allegation Dr Adams said she was treated like a "leper", frozen out of communication with colleagues, bullied in meetings and the hostility got so bad she was afraid to enter the staffroom.

In a statutory declaration to a Workers Compensation Commission conference last month she detailed being left off important emails, given an hour's notice by email to attend meetings at Ourimbah when she was at the Callaghan campus and feeling isolated.

"In the end I feared going to work and there were times when I would just break down and cry," she said.

"It has gone on for so long that it is hard to remember what life was like before all of this."

The University of Newcastle branch of the National Tertiary Education Union and Newcastle University Student Union launched a major anti-bullying campaign last year.

The unions said there was a "large volume" of cases in which staff and students reported ongoing bullying and harassment on campus.

Education union vice-president Rod Noble said in some cases staff had been forced to leave the university as a result.

"For some people there are fears of retribution and some are simply too afraid to speak out," Mr Noble said.

"People have left as they have felt that was the only way to resolve it."

Several former Newcastle University academics who spoke to The Herald confirmed a "culture of fear" and said if people spoke up they "risked their careers".

Professor Saunders said there was simply no evidence of a culture of bullying.

He said the university's complaints office dealt with 33 formal, or written, cases of harassment and bullying last year that were made by 27 people, with 22 cases upheld against 16 people.

Of them 17 cases related to bullying with 12 cases upheld against six people.

A further 24 informal complaints of harassment were made by 24 people and seven related to bullying. None of the seven informal complaints resulted in an investigation.

Professor Saunders said bullying and harassment was not tolerated and it was clearly against the university's code of conduct.

Punishment ranged from counselling to the university taking action for misconduct.


Academic Bullying: A Problem on College Campuses

When Dr. Faith Edwards found herself facing false accusations that she had tampered with her superior’s car in an attempt to harm him, it became the latest bizarre episode in what she described as a harassment campaign against her. Eventually winning a wrongful termination lawsuit against the Michigan higher education institution where she had been harassed, Edwards, a nursing professor, took her story Thursday to the annual meeting of one of the nation’s largest faculty organizations to spread awareness of “academic bullying” and campus workplace violence.

“It was like drowning and no one sending you a buoy,” said Edwards, who told her story during a session at the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) conference in Washington, D.C.

The disintegration of civility in higher education is a growing concern for university faculty who say the disrespect has reached epic levels not only between professors and students but also among colleagues. Women and faculty of color are often the targets of mistreatment, but increased competition and societal shifts have demonstrated that no higher education professional is immune. In addition to academic bullying, the incidence of workplace violence is no longer rare in higher education. High-profile cases, such as the February killings of three University of Alabama-Huntsville professors allegedly by a co-worker, were prominent in higher education news this past academic year.

“It’s coming up in many of our sessions,” said AAUP director of communications Robin Burns. “It’s always been a problem, but people are really talking about it now.”

“It’s becoming a more prominent issue,” said Janet Tompkins McMahon, a conference presenter and an assistant professor of nursing who is moving to Towson University from Francis Marion University. “We need to be prepared to deal with this and avoid detrimental consequences that could harm everyone.”

Edwards said she believes the bullying she experienced stemmed from a number of reasons. Prior to the car tampering accusations and other incidents, Edwards had been unexpectedly away eight weeks from her job as an assistant professor at her school’s nursing department after suffering a medical emergency. Her absence had put a strain on the department, requiring five different faculty members to cover her classes, she said. But, as soon as she was able, Edwards returned to teaching.

But things had changed. The once popular Edwards was quickly ostracized by her colleagues and pressured by her supervisor to resign. Edwards, who was on track for tenure and held the only doctorate in the department, was berated in faculty meetings, attacked in evaluations, and publicly denigrated in e-mails, she said.

Matters worsened for her, but Edwards battled the offensive that led to her dismissal from the university. A lawyer, an ulcer, and thousands of dollars later, she won her case in court but was not entirely vindicated.

“Your parents always tell you to fight for what you believe is right,” she said, adding that she has decided to use her experience as a case study for academic bullying and to advise others about analyzing the health of institutions. “But it’s damn hard.”

And for professors teaching the millennial generation, good manners are no longer the norm among students, McMahon said, adding that young people today feel entitled to everything—even grades they don’t deserve. Asking for extra credit, complaining about assignment deadlines, making excuses for incomplete work are characteristic of modern students, she added.

To adjust to her students’ learning styles and remain sensitive to their needs, McMahon characterized them as Wizard of Oz archetypes, which are the confused scarecrow, the insecure Tin Man, the cowardly lion, and the focused Dorothy. Understanding student personalities, she said, helps professors avoid triggering behaviors that could lead to potentially dangerous stress in the classroom.

“Be careful. A house could fall on you,” McMahon said, alluding to the fate of the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz.

In a 2005 study published in the Journal of Nursing Education, researchers reported examples of increased problematic behavior, everything from leaving class early or sleeping in class to verbal abuse and plagiarism.

Presenters at the AAUP sessions on academic bullying suggested instructors develop standards of practices that are consistent and published clearly in course syllabi with explicit wording that emphasizes strict adherence. If the behavior is not immediately confronted and reported, the incivility could escalate, presenters said.

Paul Howe, a conference presenter and business instructor at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in North Carolina, said he believes the audacity of his students’ excuses and classroom behavior is tied to the societal emphasis on consumerism.

“Students often ask me why they aren’t passing if they pay for classes and come every day,” Howe said. “They actually think, since they pay, they should get good grades without doing the work.”


Workplace bullying rife in the sector, union claims

One in ten have suffered physical or violent abuse, while 41 per cent report intimidation, UCU study finds

Two-fifths of further education employees have been bullied at work in the past sixth months, with one in ten reporting violent or physical abuse, according to a report by the University and College Union (UCU).

The incidence of bullying is far higher than in other industries, the union said. And, according to the report, managers and supervisors are responsible for much of the problem.

Overall, 41 per cent of FE respondents to the UCU survey carried out in November 2008 said they had been bullied in the preceding six months, compared with 34 per cent of those surveyed in the higher education sector.

The report, Who Listens? Bullying in Further and Higher Education, compared its findings with those in a survey of bullying across different occupations and industries in Britain in 2000 which found that 11 per cent of people had been bullied in the preceding six months.

But despite the reported incidence of bullying in FE, 69 per cent made no official complaint. Of those who did, 52 per cent who had been bullied by another employee said the response of their institution had been “bad or very bad”.

The report found that 72 per cent of those who had been bullied blamed managers or supervisors, compared with 33 per cent who cited other colleagues, 7 per cent who said it was subordinates, and 6 per cent who blamed students.

The most likely forms of bullying included: being given tasks with unreasonable or impossible deadlines; being given an unmanageable workload; and being subject to excessive monitoring of work.

Other types of bullying included: being humiliated or ridiculed; being asked to do work below levels of competence; gossip and rumours; and having opinions ignored.

Ten per cent said they had experienced violence or physical abuse in the previous six months, with 2 per cent saying they experienced this sort of bullying on a monthly basis. One in ten reported unwanted sexual attention.

The Association of Colleges’ (AoC) employment director, Evan Williams, voiced concern about the sample size of the survey, as only 324 FE employees responded, and said that it was two years out of date. [Imagine that!]

“The agreement on bullying and harassment was drawn up in 2008 and AoC jointly ran roadshows with the unions to raise awareness of these issues among employers and unions,” he said.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “The level of bullying in further and higher education is alarmingly high. With both sectors facing huge cuts and the very real possibility of heavier workloads, it is essential that robust measures are put in place to support staff.”

Nadine Cartner, director of policy for the Association for College Management, representing some 4,000 FE managers, said the association was producing a handbook aimed at addressing the problem.

“Good colleges, by definition, seek to deal with and eliminate bullying through values of respect, openness and courtesy, together with a zero- tolerance approach when bullying occurs,” she said.



From the report:

Lack of confidence in UCU

Didn't believe the UCU would be supportive (others filed complaints & union not very supportive). (HE)

I am scared to use the union as in my experience from a range of colleagues things became worse and UCU were unable to prevent anything so I'm worried that if I make a complaint this will lead to further unjustified intervention in my work and my life at work will be even worse than it is at the moment and the bullying will continue...

...If you have reported any form of bullying from individuals employed by your institution, how satisfactory was the response of your institution to your complaints? Of those in further education who reported any form of bullying from individuals employed by their institution, only 26% said the response of their institution to their complaints was fairly or very good; 52% said the response was bad or very bad. Of those in higher education who reported any form of bullying from individuals employed by their institution, only 15% said the response of their institution to their complaints was fairly or very good; 57% said the response was bad or very bad...

...Have you ever witnessed bullying at work over the last five years? 73% of respondents in further education said they had witnessed bullying at work over the preceding five years, compared with 67% of respondents in higher education...

Why mediation does not work...

Because of the serial bully's Jekyll and Hyde nature, compulsive lying, charm and plausibility, the validity of this person's testimony cannot be relied on in disciplinary proceedings, appeal hearings, and under oath at tribunal and in court. Emphasise this when taking action.

Mediation with this type of individual is inappropriate. Serial bullies regard mediation (and arbitration, conciliation, negotiation etc) as appeasement, which they ruthlessly exploit; it allows them to give the impression in public that they are negotiating and being conciliatory, whilst in private they continue the bullying. The lesson of the twentieth century is that you do not appease aggressors.

The disordered thinking processes of the criminal / antisocial mind are succinctly described in Stanton E Samenow's book 'Straight talk about criminals'. For example:

"Certain people who I term non-arrestable criminals behave criminally towards others , but they are sufficiently fearful [and knowledgeable of the law] so that they do not commit major crimes. We all know them: individuals who shamelessly use others to gain advantage for themselves. Having little empathy, they single-mindedly pursue their objectives and have little remorse for the injuries they inflict. If others take them to task, they become indignant and self-righteous and blame circumstances. Such people share much in common with the person who makes crime a way of life. Although they may not have broken the law, they nonetheless victimize others." (Chapter 8, The criminal mind exists independent of particular laws, culture or customs)

In Samenow's 1984 book 'Inside the criminal mind' he uses this description:

"Some criminals are smooth rather than contentious, ingratiating rather than surly, devious rather than intimidating. They pretend to be interested in what others say. Appearing to invite suggestions, they inwardly dismiss each idea without considering its merits. They seem to take criticism in stride but ignore it and spitefully make mental note of who the critic was. They misuse authority and betray trust but are not blatant about doing so. With the criminal at the helm, employee morale deteriorates. His method of operation sooner or later discourages others from proposing innovative ideas and developing creative solutions." (Chapter 6, Work and the criminal)


Workplace Mediators Seek a Role in Taming Faculty Bullies

College faculty members who are bullied or abused by coworkers often feel they must either suffer through it or quit. Soon, however, colleges may be pressed to give them a third option: requesting the intervention of a mediator or arbitrator to try to turn their workplace situation around.

What is unclear is whether such interventions will make life more tolerable for bullies' victims or leave them feeling more beat up than they were before.

Colleges already frequently use various forms of third-party intervention, broadly known as alternative dispute resolution, to try to keep complaints of unlawful discrimination from turning into costly legal battles. Noting that such disputes often involve allegations of bullying or other forms for workplace abuse, two prominent organizations that provide alternative dispute resolution plan in the coming months to undertake a national campaign to urge colleges to use that same approach in handling complaints of mistreatment that do not necessarily violate any civil-rights laws.

The effort is being led by the American Arbitration Association, a nonprofit provider of alternative dispute resolution based in New York, and by the ADR Consortium, which consists of companies and individuals that offer such services. Also involved is the Institute of Human Resources and Industrial Relations at Loyola University Chicago, which plans to do research on the effectiveness of the approach.

In a paper scheduled for presentation Wednesday at the annual conference of the American Association of University Professors, Lamont E. Stallworth, a professor of human resources and employment relations at the Loyola institute and a founder of the ADR Consortium, and Myrna C. Adams, an organizational consultant who formerly served as Duke University's vice president for institutional equity, argue that alternative dispute resolution offers an "ethical, professional, and cost-effective" way to deal with bullying and other forms of workplace incivility.

By handling bullying complaints confidentially in such a manner, the paper by Mr. Stallworth and Ms. Adams says, colleges can help keep the victims of bullies from developing psychological or health problems as a result of their stress, and can avoid the costs associated with having to replace faculty members who otherwise might quit their jobs in response to the bullying they have experienced or witnessed.

Mr. Stallworth and Ms. Adams acknowledge, however, that they cannot point to any research showing alternative dispute resolution to be an effective means of dealing with bullying. And many experts on bullying argue that what research actually shows is that mediation by some third party is an ineffective means of dealing with bullying, and may even leave the victims worse off.

"There is great consensus about the futility of [alternative dispute resolution] to work with bullying," Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, said in an e-mail message.

In a September 2009 article in Consulting Psychology Journal, Mr. Namie and Ruth Namie, his wife and partner in running the Workplace Bullying Institute, wrote, "Traditional conflict mediation ignores the targeted worker's need for justice and acknowledgment of the harm" and "focuses only on current and future circumstances, ignoring the past."

"If there is a power imbalance between target and bully, as there often is, mediation can harm the target," they said.

Bully for You

Workplace bullying is a big concern in academe and a source of much misery for some faculty members.

Kenneth Westhues, a professor of sociology at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, has devoted much of his career to studying "mobbing"—the type of bullying that occurs when a bunch of people gang up on someone—and has found academe to be rife with such behavior. Mobbing, he says, occurs most in workplaces where workers have high job security, where there are few objective measures of performance, and where there is frequent tension between loyalty to the institution and loyalty to some higher purpose. Colleges fit that bill.

The AAUP's annual conference this week has three sessions devoted specifically to faculty bullying. In their paper, Mr. Stallworth and Ms. Adams describe how bullying in academe can take forms other than mobbing, including "regulation bullying," where the victim is forced to comply with unnecessary rules; "legal bullying," which involves using legal action to control or punish a person; "pressure bullying," which involves making unreasonable time demands; and "corporate bullying," in which an employer abuses a worker who cannot easily find another job.

They blame three common features of academic environments—big egos, an individualistic ethic, and tolerance for behaviors not accepted elsewhere—for the prevalence of bullying behavior in such settings.

Bullies and Victims

In a paper scheduled to be presented on Thursday, three researchers from Wilkes University, in Pennsylvania, will discuss the results of a survey that asked faculty members in economics and business about bullying behavior. They found that among such academics, men are more likely to be bullies than women, both genders are about equally likely to be victims, and older faculty members are more likely to be bullies and younger ones to be victims.

The most common type of bullying behavior faculty members engage in, the Wilkes researchers found, is discounting another person's accomplishments, followed by turning other people against their victim, or subjecting their victim to public criticism or constant scrutiny.

The researchers—Jennifer Edmonds, associate professor of statistics and operations management; Dean Frear, assistant professor of organizational behavior; and Ellen Raineri, assistant professor of business—caution that their survey had a low response rate. Just 60, or 2.7 percent, of the 2,200 faculty members they contacted via e-mail responded to their questions, they said, and thus their findings may be skewed by sampling bias.

But a 2007 online survey of more than 7,700 adults conducted by Zogby International for the Workplace Bullying Institute similarly found that, among workplaces in general, men and bosses are disproportionately represented among bullies, and women and people in nonsupervisory roles account for a disproportionate share of victims.

Other survey research by the institute has found that only a small fraction of workers who complain about bullying to their employers feel that a fair investigation was conducted, that they were protected from further bullying, and that their bully suffered consequences. The far more common outcome was for the employer to do nothing and for the victims to be retaliated against and eventually lose their jobs.

The institute's 2007 survey found that workplace bullying was four times as prevalent as discriminatory harassment that is prohibited by law. The organization has been urging states to adopt what it calls the Healthy Workplace Bill, a measure that gives workers who have been subjected to an abusive work environment the right to sue their employers. Since 2003, 17 states have considered such legislation, but none has yet passed it into law. The New York Senate passed such a measure last month, but the State Assembly has yet to vote on it. The bill's opponents include many business leaders and the mayor of New York City, Michael R. Bloomberg.

Among the other nations that have passed laws intended to curb workplace bullying are Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Quebec adopted such a law, called the Quebec Psychological Harassment Act, in 2004.

Different Perspectives

A key element of the campaign planned by the American Arbitration Association and the ADR Consortium is persuading colleges to adopt anti-bullying policies and codes of civility. That way, although alternative dispute resolution would not be used unless both sides agreed to it, the alleged perpetrator would have an incentive to enter into the resolution process, to avoid facing disciplinary action.

Christine L. Newhall, senior vice president of the American Arbitration Association, said in an interview on Tuesday that many types of dispute resolution could be used in such situations, including fact-finding, binding or nonbinding arbitration, or mediation in which a facilitator tries to bring together both sides. She is confident that well-trained providers of such services can resolve many bullying-related conflicts in academe, just as they settle many other workplace disputes.

"Sometimes the bully does not even know they are a bully," Ms. Newhall said.

Mr. Stallworth is playing a central role in the effort as both a faculty member at the Loyola institute and program director of the ADR Consortium, which he established in 1995. A veteran user of alternative dispute resolution to settle complaints of illegal discrimination, he says he became interested in research on workplace bullying several years ago and has been considering how to apply the expertise of those like him to such conflicts.

If mediation can be used to resolve disputes over equal-employment opportunity, Mr. Stallworth said in an interview this month, "then there is no reason why we cannot structure mediation protocols—or, for that matter, arbitration protocols—to deal with any issues of power imbalance in workplace bullying disputes."

Martin F. Scheinman, a prominent professional arbitrator and mediator who helped set up the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution at Cornell University, said in an interview Tuesday that he similarly sees the potential of alternative dispute resolution to defuse such workplace conflicts in academe, especially in situations where one side may not even be entertaining the perspective of the other.

"When people don't get what they want, they don't say, 'Maybe it has something to do with me,'" Mr. Scheinman said.

Mr. Stallworth said that he and other leaders of the effort plan to invite higher-education associations to join it, and to offer local and regional training to colleges in dealing with bullying and incivility. When problems crop up on campuses, the American Arbitration Association and the ADR Consortium will provide referrals to people affiliated with or trained by them who can provide conflict-resolution services.

The groups involved with the effort plan next year to host a national summit on alternative dispute resolution in Washington. They intend to devote much of the conference to discussions of bullying and incivility at colleges, and plan to invite various higher-education associations to participate.

Dangers Ahead

"I go for anything that works," Mr. Westhues, the mobbing expert at the University of Waterloo, said this month. He cautioned, however, that even the best-intentioned approaches to bullying can backfire. For example, many colleges have been adopting "respectful workplace" or "dignity at work" policies calling for people to be civil to their fellow employees, but he has watched bullies bring frivolous complaints under such policies as just one more means of tormenting their victims.

"From my research, the bottom line that I come to is that there is no substitute in the workplace for adroit, fair management or administration," Mr. Westhues said. If a college embraces alternative dispute resolution but "you have an administration that is basically incompetent or lacks imagination in working out ways for people to live with each other, what you are going to have is an endless series of disputes going to some formal dispute-resolution mechanism."

In an article published in August 2004 in the British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, Patricia Ferris, then a doctoral student in industrial organizational psychology at the University of Calgary, studied organizations' responses to bullying and found that "mediation was frequently unsuccessful due to power differentials between the employee and the bully, inexperience on the part of the person conducting the mediation, and lack of understanding of the differences between bullying and interpersonal conflict." In fact, she said, mediation "was the most damaging response to employees" because they often felt betrayed by organizations that did not provide the help they sought, and ended up seeking more psychological counseling, on average, than people who worked for organizations that either did nothing about bullying behavior or had policies against bullying which they rigidly enforced.

Mr. Stallworth argues, however, that there are many types of bullying behavior and many approaches to alternative dispute resolution, and some forms of mediation do not require the two sides to even have any contact with each other. He said he is confident that the approaches he advocates will be effective in a variety of situations involving bullying in academe, and that they are preferable to the choices the victims of faculty bullies now face.

"So many people have dealt with the consequences of being bullied," Mr. Stallworth said. "We all know how terrible it is to be treated in that fashion."




The Times Higher Education article
announcing Sir Peter's stepping down as Kingston's Vice Chancellor was swamped with very critical comments from readers highlighting his contribution to workplace bullying. I admit they presented a very unflattering image of the man.

As of today (1 June 2010) all these critical comments have been removed from that blog. What was left is a wash out. Does Sir Peter have a guardian angel?

No, he has expensive legal help that threatens THES with legal action so the latter removed the 'offending' comments and replaced them with the following statement:
  • Editor's comment

    We welcome free speech but not comments that are libellous, unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, invasive of another's privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable. Any postings of this nature will be removed.

    Ann Mroz, Editor